“Phil Powers Seems to be Dead to the World”

15 Apr

Phillip J. Powers again left the National League umpire staff at the close of the 1888 season.  In 1889 he returned to London, Ontario to manage the Tecumseh’s, quit in May to become an umpire in the International Association, and then resigned from that job to return to the National League as an umpire in July.

Phil Powers

Phil Powers

The Detroit Free Press said the former and current National League arbiter “would never be a success as an umpire.”

Within weeks he was again at the center of controversy.

After the Boston Beaneaters beat the Philadelphia Quakers on July 25, The Philadelphia Inquirer placed the blame for the home team’s loss squarely on the shoulders of one man:

“Anyone who saw Phil Powers umpire yesterday would set him down as incompetent or dishonest.  While he is neither of these he gave a combination of glaring decisions which robbed the Philadelphia club of the game…It was a hard game to lose and it was no wonder that nearly every one of the 6,7000 spectators joined in hooting at Powers.”

The Inquirer would continue to criticize Powers for the remainder of his career; a few sample quotes.

From 1890:

“Umpire Phil Powers seems to be dead to the world.”

From 1891:

“The rank work of umpire Powers.”

From 1892:

“Umpire Phil Powers has been unanimously elected a member of the Society for the Promotion of Riots.”

The Sporting Life joined the chorus and derided as a “decided detriment to the game,” his work in the Giants-White Stockings series in early August:

“Mr. Powers is not a competent umpire…He does not know the rules, and judging from his decisions on the bases his eyesight is certainly impaired.”

 The Chicago Daily News quoted “Cap” Anson saying Powers “ didn’t know his business.”

Powers did have one defender.  “Orator” Jim O’Rourke, of the New York Giants, wrote a long letter that was reprinted in The Sporting Life, and other papers, making the case for the “High opinion in which Mr. Powers is held by the majority of professionals”, and using the opportunity to heap scorn on Anson:

“No man ever filled the position to better advantage and with more honor and credit to himself.   Mr. Powers is conscientious, faithful and absolutely fearless in voicing his convictions; neither can there be any doubt of his intentions to discharge impartially the irksome duties which the office entail upon him.

“Anson’s hate of such a man is only limited by the capacity of his nature for hate. Now why is this so? Because this cross-grain brow-beater, with the swaggering air of a Mexican bandit, who is so susceptible to becoming red-headed In the presence of umpires and spectators, is forced by this honest referee to have the result of a game settled by the contesting clubs upon its merits and not by his disgusting methods, which have made him the laughing-stock of all players, not even excepting his own.”

Jim O'Rourke--Defender of Powers

Jim O’Rourke–Defender of Powers

Despite O’Rourke’s defense, the criticisms of Powers continued, but he managed to stay on the National League staff in 1890 and ’91.

The Sporting Life updated readers about the umpire through the 1891 season:

“(Powers) has been catching it along the Western line from spectators, players and reporters.”

“(The Pirates) ready to meet Anson’s team to the call of Umpire Phil Powers, who has never pleased Pittsburgh’s audiences”

“Western critics are unanimously of the opinion that Phil Powers argues too much with the players.”

“(Cleveland papers) roasted Phil Powers to their hearts’ content.”

In August of 1891 Powers was released as an umpire by the National League.  He died in New York City in 1914.

A postscript:

A story that has appeared in several books and articles (all citing previous secondary sources) claims Powers pulled a gun on enraged fans in either 1888 or ’89.  While similar stories have been attributed to other umpires (for example umpire Joe Ellick, in 1886, was escorted off the field in Philadelphia by police who drew their weapons to protect him from an angry mob) and there are numerous contemporaneous references to irate fans at games, some with Powers as umpire,  none mention the gun incident.

It is probably a conflation of stories such as Ellick’s and a wire service article that appeared in several newspapers in 1906, shortly after “Buck” Ewing’s death, and described another incident involving Powers and Ewing.

“It was in 1889 that one of the worst rows in the history of baseball was precipitated at Cleveland by “Buck” Ewing.  Phil Powers was umpiring and his weakness whenever a critical decision came up was so apparent that the crowd was on pins and needles as to which way the cat would jump.

“(Jimmy) McAleer hit for two bases.  After he had got (sic) to second, Ewing said something to Powers, and the umpire hesitated a moment and then declared McAleer out for not touching first base…(Powers) was not looking at first when McAleer passed, having turned his head as somebody yelled at him from the opposite side of the field.  This was plainly evident to the crowd, and the moment that the spectators understood why McAleer was out they bolted from the stands and made a rush for the umpire.

“(Powers) took one look at the approaching mob and fled to the players’ clubhouse.  The police cleared the field after a while and Powers was induced to come forth and finish the game, but with police protection on either side of him.”

According to the story (which makes no mention of a gun), Powers later admitted that he had no idea whether McAleer had touched first base and simply took “Ewing’s word for it.”

Jimmy McAleer, called out on Ewing's word

Jimmy McAleer, called out on Ewing’s word

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4 Responses to ““Phil Powers Seems to be Dead to the World””

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. “By-By, Baby Anson” | Baseball History Daily - December 26, 2013

    […] to five and a half games, The World attributed it to “Two new men for Anson’s team;” umpires Phil Powers and Charles Daniels.   The Giants managed win the fourth game of the series 7 to 3; the paper […]

  2. Alternate Realities | Baseball History Daily - February 26, 2014

    […] Philip “Leather Fisted Phil” Powers went from respected major league catcher to one of the National League’s most controversial and disliked umpires. […]

  3. ’I guess I am Rotten” | Baseball History Daily - November 24, 2014

    […] and pulling down a fly that saved the game?  I can do it right along.  None of them big stars, Jim) McAleer, Curt Welch or any of the rest of them fellows have the best of old Pete on fly balls.  The old […]

  4. “A Knocking Umpire had Attempted to keep Speaker back” | Baseball History Daily - September 11, 2015

    […] refused to accept (Huff’s) offer and wired (Jimmy) McAleer at St. Louis.  I told him I would sell him Speaker under a positive guarantee that he would make […]

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